You know the depressing story about the miserable results of efforts to find a way to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease.
The results have been so bad that some participants in the recent Alzheimer’s Association conference suggested that the United States should shift cash toward care, and away from medical research, because the money spent on medical research so far has not done much good.
That pattern could continue, but one new tool dementia researchers now have in their labs is access to reasonably affordable machines that can read strands of DNA, and similar substances that carry genetic information, quickly and accurately.
Just thirty years ago, getting even a tiny bit of gene sequence information meant trapping lab assistants in a lab for long, arduous days of extracting genetic material and using complicated, Rube Goldberg methods to find out which nucleotides, or DNA sequence letters, were in the sequence. Getting even a tiny bit of information about genetic sequences was difficult and expensive.
Scientists could get some idea about what was going on in a human’s, or another organism’s, genes by looking at the organisms, or tiny snippets of genetic sequence information, and that was about it.
Now, scientists with grant money can buy “high throughout put sequencing” systems, or “next generation sequencing” systems, that can do in a few hours many times more sequencing work than what assistants used to be able to do in months in the lab.
Illumina, for example, says its HiSeq X Ten system can sequence an entire human genome for about $1,000 per genome.
Instead of just decoding the letters on the cover of the Book of Life, researchers can look closely at all of the letters in many different people’s books of life. Understanding what words those letters actually spell, and how the words work together, will take decades, or centuries, but the researchers already have a new way of seeing old problems.
For five ways sequencing could help researchers make many long-term care insurance (LTCI) claims vanish, and eventually lower claims far below what issuers had expected, read on.
1. New sequencing systems can help researchers skim entire populations for interesting genes.
One group of researchers, described in an article in the Annals of Translational Medicine, found a rare gene in Iceland that seemed to triple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, then found the same gene seemed to have the same effect on people living in the United States, Norway, the Netherlands and Germany.
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2. The new systems speed up efforts to find mutations that affect specific groups of people.
Scientists have been doing that for years, and they found the gene described in the Annals of Translational Medicine article by looking in Iceland. But now sequencing is cheap enough that genealogy hobbyists can do crude versions of that work for fun.
In a recent article in Molecular Genetics & Genomic Medicine, researchers describe using that kind of approach to quickly find 12 candidates for further research in Caribbean Hispanic people from families with four more relatives affected by dementia.